As promised, lawsuits filed over monument changes
As promised, a host of lawsuits have been filed in federal court after the December 4 decision by President Donald Trump to reduce Bears Ears National Monument.
No less than three lawsuits were filed regarding Bears Ears and two more were filed regarding the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
All five lawsuits were filed in the federal district court in Washington, D.C.
In general, it is anticipated that the lawsuits would seek injunctions to block mining and oil and gas drilling if new permits are issued for land within the prior monument boundaries.
The lawsuits, which were filed by tribal and environmental organizations, challenge the authority of President Trump to rescind previous monument declarations using the Antiquities Act.
One lawsuit was filed by the five Native American tribes that make up the inter-tribal coalition that pushed for the designation of Bears Ears.
They include the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni tribes.
Regarding the lawsuit, attorneys for the tribes said, “President Trump’s action to revoke and replace the Bears Ears National Monument is not only an attack on the five sovereign nations with deep ties to the Bears Ears region, it is a complete violation of the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.
“No president has ever revoked and replaced a national monument before because it is not legal to do so.”
A second lawsuit was filed by eight organizations representing Native American and conservation interests.
They include Utah Diné Bikéyah, Patagonia Works, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, Conservation Lands Foundation, Access Fund, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
They argue that the President’s proclamation “is contrary to law, ignores overwhelming public support for the original monument designation, and dishonors Native American heritage and culture.”
Utah Diné Bikéyah began to form in 2010 and was on the forefront of developing the Bears Ears proposals. The organization has a board of directors made up of San Juan County residents from across the county.
Friends of Cedar Mesa is a Bluff-based organization that also began in 2010. The group has been involved in a number of projects in the area and was involved in the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.
The third lawsuit was filed by a group of conservation organizations, including The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
The groups charge that the president “violated the 1906 Antiquities Act and the U.S. Constitution by eviscerating the monument.
“The unprecedented act leaves rare archaeological sites and stunning wildlands without protection from looting, prospecting, oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, or off-road vehicle damage.”
Bears Ears National Monument was declared on December 28, 2016 by President Barack Obama. It contained 1.35 million acres of public land and covered about 28 percent of the land mass of San Juan County.
The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was declared on September 18, 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It contained 1.865 million acres of public land in Garfield and Kane counties.
Both monuments were created through the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that gives the President the authority to declare monuments in order to protect threatened antiquities. The two Utah monuments were designated without the support of Utah elected officials and have remained controversial since that time.
At the Utah State capitol building in Salt Lake City, President Trump signed an executive order that cut more than two million acres of land out of the two national monuments. In their place, Trump created the Indian Creek and Shash Jaa national monuments in San Juan County, and the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyons units in Garfield and Kane counties.